A Labour veteran will lead an independent group monitoring the Catholic church’s response to child sexual abuse — 16 months after it was called for by an official report.
Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke, a former secretary of state for Scotland, has been appointed by the church after criticism that it was appearing to drag its feet over implementing new safeguards against child sexual abuse scandals, which have plagued it in recent years.
The Bishops’ Conference, the ruling body of the Catholic Church in Scotland, formally announced Baroness Liddell yesterday as the first chairwoman of the Independent Review Group. It will work separately from the church, reviewing new safeguarding standards and carrying out independent audits.
An independent body was called for 16 months ago by Andrew McLellan in his official inquiry report into the child sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church in Scotland.
At the beginning of last month, he criticised the Catholic hierarchy for failing to act on the recommendations of his commission, which called for an independent review body. The church responded on November 2 by saying a “chairman has accepted and the members of the group are being confirmed”.
Baroness Liddell said yesterday that she accepted the position after substantive discussions. However, she said she was “not staffed at all” and had not yet appointed anyone to the review group. She has set up her own email account to deal with administration and correspondence herself.
Although “not an expert in safeguarding”, she would assemble a panel of experts and professionals in safeguarding, canon law and Scottish law.
“It’s a bit awkward that it’s in the run-up to Christmas,” she said. “I hope to have real progress made by mid-January.”
Baroness Liddell said she was hoping to meet Dr McLellan this week to go through his report but said she thought its recommendations were excellent.
“But because I have some experience of the Catholic church I know it operates at a very slow pace,” she added.
The McLellan Commission, established in 2014, made eight recommendations, the chief of which was that the Catholic church must make support for survivors of abuse an “absolute priority” and change from a “culture of secrecy to a culture of openness”.
Asked whether her own Catholic faith could impede her independence, Baroness Liddell said: “If I feel my independence is under threat, then I will publicise the fact and I will walk.”